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Community to honor RBG, celebrate young women on Election Day

Elisabeth Slay
The Shawnee News-Star
From left to right Shawnee attorney Breanne Gordon, Sherri Thompson with Community Renewal and local artist LeAnne Henry Wright have been working on an event to honor Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and empower young women in the community.
Shawnee artist LeAnne Henry Wright working on one of her art pieces in her “I Dissent, Art Show of Gratitude.”

Following the passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Shawnee artist LeAnne Henry Wright was inspired to both honor the justice for paving the way and to empower young women in the community. 

Henry Wright said after Ginsburg’s passing, she was not only mourning the loss of an iconic female figure, but also the anniversary of her grandmother’s passing. 

“I was in my studio and just grieving the loss of RBG and just grieving the idea of the consequences that would be unfolding for all women,” Henry Wright said. 

However, Henry Wright said she knew Ginsburg and her grandmother would not want her to be sad, but to do something to inspire the next generation of powerful and strong females.

“It just hit me that that’s not what she would want. That’s not what she would allow and that’s not what she fought for,” Henry Wright said.

The artist said she decided to use her voice in the community to help and inspire young women and she had the idea to partner with Community Renewal and create the Unapologetic Essay Contest.

“I reached out to Travis Flood one of the directors and tossed the idea of an essay contest where we could ask (young women) ‘who are your role models’ and maybe more importantly ‘if you don’t have one describe what you need,” Henry Wright said. 

Henry Wright said various people have helped make her idea a reality including Sherri Tompson with Community Renewal and attorney at Stuart and Clover  Breanne Gordon.

Henry Wright said the essay contest is for young women who attend Shawnee Public Schools and participate in the Shawnee Youth Coalition. 

According to Thompson, the essay contest will be for young women in fifth grade through twelfth grade.

“We will judge those essays in two categories. We have an older category and a younger category,” Thompson said. 

The younger category, Thompson said will be fifth through eighth grade and the older will be ninth through twelfth grade.

The former educator said she feels this project is perfect for Community Renewal because it aligns with their goal of building better citizens to build a better world.

“For professional reasons this project was perfect for us because we are going to introduce the writing skills, the communication skills, teach them a bit about history and provide a mentor,” Thompson said. “All those things are really important to Community Renewal.”

Personally, Thompson said this event is inspiring to her as a woman and as a mother of a daughter who just became an attorney.

“I know without the sacrifices of RBG that would not have been a possibility for her,” Thompson said. 

Thompson said the deadline for the essays is Oct. 16.

According to Gordon, she and a panel of judges including County Judges Tracy McDaniel and Emily Mueller and other female legal professionals will determine the top 20 Outstanding Essays.

“After Justice Ginsburg passed away I was mourning that loss and I felt very alone about it,” Gordon said. “So when I got this text message from LeAnne a couple of days later I (thought) someone else understands and feels the same way.”

Gordon said she was on board with the event because as a female attorney she’s grateful to Ginsburg for fighting for her and all women.

“I loved (LeAnne’s) idea right away and so my role has just been reaching out to other female attorneys in the community and judges and getting together a small panel and (the mentors),” Gordon said. 

Henry Wright said the top 20 winners will then be invited to a special luncheon on Election Day Nov. 3 where they will be paired with 20 female legal professionals from across the state.

“(We’ll) connect them with 20 attorneys, judges who are women in our state and try to bond that relationship,” Henry Wright said. 

According to Thompson, the top essays in each category will be read aloud at the luncheon by the young women who wrote them. 

Thompson said the luncheon will be sponsored by Emmanuel Episcopal Church and safe amid COVID-19 as it will be outside in the church parking lot or at the adjacent park and necessary safety measures will be implemented.  

Henry Wright said the luncheon will be limited to 60 people including the essay winners, the legal professionals and additional guest speakers.

“I have a guest speaker Erin Bailey Jones who is a childhood friend. She graduated here in Oklahoma but she went on to the Naval Academy where she went on to serve our country, work in the Pentagon and (with) some of the top ranks in the Navy,” she said. 

Henry Wright said Jones retired and returned to Oklahoma to run her family’s ranch.

“Not only has she personally met RBG. She has also sat with Maya Angelou

before speaking at the Capitol,” she said. “I feel like to hear a young Oklahoma girl went out and literally circled the globe doing great things (is inspirational).” 

Following the luncheon, Henry Wright said any one is welcome to join the group for a walk from Emmanuel to the Pottawatomie County Courthouse for photos before ending at the artist’s galley where she will debut several pieces from her “I Dissent, Art Show of Gratitude.” 

“This part will be open to all citizens both men and women, to make the three block walk down Broadway,” she said.

The artist said in addition to the essay contest, she was inspired to create various art pieces reflecting Ginsburg’s famous “dissent collar” which Henry Wright said is a symbol of all the injustices Ginsburg stood against. 

“That specific collar she wore when she wasn’t with the majority opinion and those dissent letters were meant as blueprints for the future for congress and lawmakers...to do the right thing,” Henry Wright said. “For me just the idea of what that means made me get up and start working.”

This event is the most important the artist said she feels she’s done both with her art and with her voice in the community.

“It’s a lot to describe it but it means a lot. I honestly don’t think that I’ve ever done anything (or) created anything artwork or projects that I care about as much as I care about this,” Henry Wright said. “I think it’s the beginning of something great.”

The artist said 25 percent of the proceeds from her art show will go toward funding ways to educate young women to use their voices in different ways.

“It doesn’t matter what profession you choose as a woman it’s essential that you know how to communicate,” Henry Wright said. “You know your rights and you know how to communicate and that’s verbally, written and visually and all those things.” 

To make a donation or to sponsor the meal Thompson said people can go or send it to Community Renewal’s office at 1000 N Kickapoo Ave.

Both Henry Wright and Thompson said any money left over will go to Emmanuel Episcopal Church and food left over from the meal will go to the church’s sack lunch program.

Henry Wright is looking forward to being a supporter and fighter for young women of the future.

“I am here because I am not afraid of anything or anyone and if I could just give that to one girl no matter her age then I know that’s going to happen,” Henry Wright said. 

Legal professionals who wish to attend need to RSVP by Oct. 20 and can do so at 

https://airtable.com/shrxlzZm2dLtpVDGp.

Students can submit their essays to bit.ly/rbg-essay by Oct. 16.